For the last two years, during my conferences, my courses and my consultations with clients, I always stress an essential dimension of the period we are living in: we are now entering what I call the Age of Responsibility.
The 21st century has just begun and we have not yet emerged from the period of extreme turbulence that engendered it. Besides the financial and economic crisis, which is far from over, many countries have been shaken by "scandals" that have one thing in common: the perpetrators, who had been acting with impunity for a long time, have now been made accountable for their actions.
The scandal that is today rocking the UK (and the USA) - "The Hacking Scandal" - is a case in point. The newspaper empire created by Rupert Murdoch has been shaken to its foundations because, after decades of collusion between the media and the political establishment, the illegal methods used by this newspaper, which consisted of very sophisticated methods for hacking telephones and voice-mail, are openly condemned.
Yet, the fact had been common knowledge for over eight years, and had already resulted in the newspaper paying settlements (among other things) to some of its victims. So what caused this fierce blow out? Because the English learned that this tabloid (which owed them it's success) did not stop at just spying on celebrities (the rich and famous that common mortals envy), but had been doing the same with ordinary people. More precisely, the News of the World had paid a private investigator to hack into the voice-mail of Milly Dowler, a child of 13, who went missing in 2002 and had been murdered. Suddenly, it became clear that these methods were being used indiscriminately on everyone, with no respect for anything. This was what triggered the public outcry.
Today, there was a message published by Rupert Murdoch in all the newspapers "We are sorry":
"The News of the World was in the business of holding others to account. It failed when it came to itself. We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred. We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected. We regret not acting faster to sort things out. I realise that simply apologising is not enough. Our business was founded on the idea that a free and open press should be a positive force in society. We need to live up to this. In the coming days, as we take further concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused, you will hear more from us".
The political establishment and the top British administration are also in turmoil: The headlines of The Independent today (July 17) read: "Revealed: Cameron's 26 meetings in 15 months with Murdoch chiefs". The head of the English police is accused of having used the services of one of the journalists from News of the World who was arrested today.
We do not know how far all this will go. But on the adjoining page of the message signed by Rupert Murdoch in The Independent is another headline announcing that nine European banks have failed to measure up to European stress tests. The financial crisis is not over, yet here too, accountability is being demanded.
Why should brands be concerned? Because they are the points of reference and benchmarks for citizens/consumers (never forget that they are the same people!). Their actions are and will increasingly come "under scrutiny", just as will those of financial institutions, media and politicians.